Thursday, October 22, 2009
L.A. stadium environmental bill signed
INDUSTRY, Calif. -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday he has signed a bill allowing the construction of a 75,000-seat stadium that developers hope will lure an NFL team back to the Los Angeles area.
Schwarzenegger said he signed the environmental exemption bill last week but saved the announcement for a news conference in Industry, where the stadium would be built about 15 miles east of Los Angeles.
The bill nullifies a lawsuit filed by residents in nearby Walnut over the project's environmental impact.
Schwarzenegger called the lawsuit frivolous before a crowd of union members wearing hardhats. Across the street, a dozen protesters from Walnut and other nearby communities held signs saying "No Stadium."
"This is the best kind of action state government can create -- action that cuts red tape, generates jobs, is environmentally friendly and brings a continued economic boost to California," Schwarzenegger said.
The governor spoke on the edge of the hilly 600-acre site where the stadium is planned by developer Majestic Realty Co., which helped develop Staples Center, the downtown Los Angeles home of the NBA's Lakers and Clippers and the NHL's Kings.
Renderings of the $800 million venue show sleek glass skyboxes cantilevered over regular seating. The stadium would be bordered by mid-rise buildings with an orthopedic hospital, movie theaters and shops to be built during a later phase of development.
Majestic chief executive Ed Roski, a billionaire, has vowed to build the stadium without any public support beyond the $150 million bond measure by Industry to pay for infrastructure improvements, which the developers plan to repay through ticket sales and parking fees.
Majestic has targeted seven teams it plans to approach after the Super Bowl in February about move to the Los Angeles area: the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers.
The firm has said the teams are in stadiums that are either too small or can't be updated with luxury box seats or other revenue sources an NFL club needs to thrive.
Roski said he's prepared to break ground as soon as a team is locked in and that he's confident that he can raise the $800 million needed for the stadium despite tight credit markets.
"We don't feel at this time that it's going to be a challenge," he said.
Mark Ganis, president of Chicago-based consultancy SportsCorp, said it will be a struggle for a new team in the region to earn enough revenue to pay the high interest banks are demanding for construction loans.
The firm would also likely have to take on debt to buy and move a team to the region, said Ganis, whose firm helped develop the new Yankee Stadium and other sports venues.
"In order to privately finance and operate a new stadium, it would have to generate more in-stadium revenue than virtually any team currently existing in the NFL," Ganis said. "That is a monumental task."
Without guarantees that the team could bring in that revenue, the NFL would be unlikely to approve a move, Ganis said.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league wants to see a team back in the Los Angeles area under circumstances that make sense for the league and the community hosting a team, but declined to specify what those circumstances are.
He said the league was aware of the environmental exemption's passage, but wasn't actively supporting any specific proposals.
Majestic's proposal for a stadium in Industry, a 12-square-mile maze of warehouses, factories, strip malls and topless bars, has gone farther than any previous efforts to bring pro football back to the nation's second-biggest market since the Rams and Raiders left in 1994.
Roski was previously among the backers of a plan to renovate the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for an expansion team. But the new team went to a Houston after the Los Angeles interests were outbid by some $150 million.
Subsequent efforts to renovate the Coliseum and Rose Bowl, and build new stadiums in cities such as Carson and Anaheim were largely thwarted by community opposition and a reluctance to sweeten the deal for the NFL with public funding.
State legislators approved the current plan amid lobbying by Majestic and labor union officials, who argued that the venue's construction and operation would bring jobs to the region suffering from high unemployment.
Backers said the stadium would create over 18,000 jobs and generate over $320 million in salaries for residents of the region.
Los Angeles County Federation of Labor head Maria Elena Durazo said Majestic has guaranteed that the parking lot attendants, concession stand workers and other stadium employees would be paid middle-class wages.
"This is true economic development," Durazo said. "It's going to benefit everyone in our community."
But Rod Faccio, a protester from Walnut, said he didn't see the benefit to his community, which he feared would now be besieged by drunk drivers on game days and other hazards.
He condemned legislators for letting the project go forward without the environmental study that some stadium critics were demanding.
"That's the principal focus: what is the impact going to be?" said Faccio, 46. "Now we're never going to know."